It’s July. LeBron is gone. The Indians are in last place. Browns training camp is around the corner but sadly, not here just yet.
If this were an episode of The Wire this is where officers Prez and Freamon regroup and sift through endless tape recordings, photos, and pages of financial records searching for any pattern that will lead them to the Barksdale gang’s next move. Nothing else to do when the wire is dead.
Sadly in this scenario the best metaphor I could come up for myself was the role of Prez (I’ll try to be Batman in my next one).
My solution is a research project. The questions are out there and we pretty much know what they are:
Is Jake Delhomme finished?
What style of offense will we see the team run?
Will the new draft picks contribute?
Will the defense get any better?
What new ways can Josh Cribbs be utilized?
How is Eric Mangini going to do in his second year?
How is Brain Daboll going to do as Gil Haskel’s sock puppet?
I want to know the answers to these questions as much as anyone, but the truth is the NFL is a matrix of countless events and we’re just going to have to wait and see how it plays out. But if we had a pattern, a history record of events that could serve as our guide, maybe we could take a stab at seeing where the Browns will finish in the coming year.
Find the Pattern
The past three seasons, the Browns have finished 10-6 (2007), then 4-12 (2008), and then 5-11 (2009). Have any other teams had a similar record of finish three straight years? What happened to them the year after that?
So let’s compare the Browns record to every other NFL team that has finished with a similar pattern of wins and losses. Basically, which teams have looked kinda good one year, but then wound up being pretty bad the next year, and sadly were bad again the year after that.
In the past 15 years I found 11 teams who matched that pattern pretty well. The outcomes of those teams’ resulting fourth seasons, and how they compare to the 2010 Browns have been detailed. This is not to be mistaken with their combined record over a three year period (woa there, that puts us in there with Detroit and St Louis), but the same pattern of finishes, i.e. kinda good, then pretty bad, then pretty bad again.
I tried to match the three year pattern of records as closely to the Browns finishes from 2007-2009 as possible.
I defined “kinda good” as finishing 11-5, 10-6, or 9-7; right in the neighborhood of the 2007 Browns who finished 10-6. Those teams then had to finish below .500 the next two seasons. So finishing 10-6 one year and then finishing 8-8 does not count. In fact, 8-8 and 7-9 would sound pretty good to Browns fans right about now. So in order to fit the pattern laid out they essentially had to finished 6-10 or worse (though I do look at two 7-9 finishes just for fun).
Example: Yes, the Atlanta Falcons went 14-2 in 1998 and followed it up with a disastrous 5-11 record in 1999 and an equally bad 4-12 in 2000. Sorry they don’t count. 14-2 is pretty darn good, Super Bowl good, dominating the league good, and the 2007 Browns just weren’t that.
I also tried to not go too far back into history when looking up other team’s records; only the past 15 years were considered. I figured this would be a fair to the modern Browns since the modern NFL changes so rapidly. Even though 15 years is not that long from a general historical perspective, it still was that long ago when Dan Marino and John Elway were playing, and I think we can all agree that was a different era. Plus the economics of the game and general divisional and playoff formats were different too, so keep in mind recent history is at a premium here.
Example: Yes, the 1992-1994 Redskins displayed a similar season-to-season pattern as the 2007-2009 Browns, but that was nearly 20 years ago, when there was no instant replay, there were 6 divisions of 5 teams, top 5 draft picks didn’t bank 40 million dollars, and some dude named Bruce Matthews made the pro-bowl for the Houston Oilers. See what I mean…
On to the results:
2000-2002: 11-5, then 5-11, and 6-10
What did they do in their fourth year of the pattern: 9-7
Dennis Green’s Vikings advanced to the NFC Championship game lead by Daunte Culpepper, one of the good QB’s to come out of the famed 1999 draft class. However the Vikes got blown out 41-0 in that game, and slipped the following season to 5-11 after having to endure the shocking death of Corey Stringer from heat exhaustion. Green was fired as coach after that disastrous season, much like Romeo Crennel was in 2008.
Enter Mike Tice, who got the team to improve in his inaugural season much like Eric Mangini did. In the fourth year of the pattern, Tice was entering his second season as coach – just like Mangini is. Tice got the Vikings back up to 9-7, and they’ve had one season under .500 in the seven years since.
Unfortunately, that 9-7 rebound season was seen as a disappointment because the Vikings started 6-0. They are the one successful team I’ve found who did not use the two losing seasons in the pattern to draft a new franchise QB, just like the Browns. While they were able to improve and should be considered an encouraging example, the Vikings were never truly a contender until they acquired Brett Favre this past season.
If the Browns were them: They’d still be 6 years from relevance, but they wouldn’t be god awful anymore either. Jake Delhomme would just be holding down the fort, and Eric Mangini would be replaced eventually. Still need that QB, but the era of getting smashed silly every Sunday would be over.
2002-2004: 10-6 then 4-12, and 6-10
What did they do in their fourth year of the pattern: 11-5
The Giants made one of the biggest draft-day trades in history, forging the destiny of two teams when they swapped Phillip Rivers to the Chargers for Eli Manning in 2004. These 10-6 Giants were last remnants of the 2000 team who fell hard in Super Bowl to the Baltimore Ravens (ouch). They finally tipped over the following year finishing 4-12, and only improved slightly in 2004 to 6-10. This pattern matches the Browns 2007-2009 pretty well, but the Giants used their down-slide to draft their franchise QB (Manning) and break him in.
With Manning in tow the Giants improveded in the fourth year of this pattern. They have not finished below .500 in any season since (finished 8-8 twice but making the playoffs one of those years). They also famously defeated the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII three years later.
If the Browns were them: They would have kept the first rounder they spent on Brady Quinn in 2007 and used it on another QB in either 2008 or 2009. Their down year in 2008 could have been capitalized by drafting Mark Sanchez, who would have had a rough rookie year last year, but could have made the team relevant again moving into his second season like Eli Manning did. Just matter of giving him weapons after that.
2003-2005: 12-4 then 5-11, and 4-12
What did they do in their fourth year of the pattern: 8-8
A slightly unfair comparison for the Browns since the 2003 Titans were coming off of a Super Bowl. Plus 12-4 is a little outside the realm of what I would consider an acceptable comparison to the Browns’ 10-6 in 2007. Let’s go with it anyway…
In 2003, Steve McNair wins is the co-MVP with Peyton Manning and the Titans make the playoffs, but they slide into decline the following year as McNair’s body finally fails him. They cut him loose after injury plagued 5-11 and 4-12 seasons.
The fourth year in the pattern however they manage to finish 8-8, behind the sensational play of rookie QB Vince Young. Again, the Titans were able to rebuild in that two year down period and secured a first round QB in the draft. I don’t see that QB on the Browns roster yet, but even though Young was rated far higher than Colt McCoy on draft day, I think Colt can be as effective at the NFL level. That probably says more about Vince Young though. However, for all the Titans’ and Young’s perceived ups and downs, they haven’t finished under .500 since 2005.
If the Browns were them: There was no way the Browns could have cut Derek Anderson, Romeo Crennel, or anyone else the slack the Titans cut Air-McNair and Jeff Fisher. Funny thing is I see the Titans embarking on a Browns-like period of uncertainty as they try to figure out what they really have in Vince Young. My feeling is he goes the route of Brady Quinn. They’ll be at square-one soon.
1997-1999: 10-6, then 6-9-1, then 3-13
What did they do in their fourth year of the pattern: 5-11
Like everyone else really, the Eagles leveraged a second consecutive losing season into a high draft pick, and franchise QB (Donovan McNabb). The Browns did not do this; they are bringing in a free agent who very well could be on his way out of this league. Let’s hope not. The Eagles did not however finish with a winning record in the fourth year of this pattern, McNabb’s first full year. They were only able to go 5-11 in 2000, but the bleeding stopped there as the Eagles have been a force in the NFC ever since. They play in an extremely competitive division just like the Browns, and the fortunes of the Cowboys and Redskins went south as the Eagles rose to prominence. We’ll see if a Steelers’ decline is our opportunity.
If the Browns were them: Hey they tried, but the Eagles 3-13 in 1999 netted them the 3rd pick in a QB loaded draft, so they had plenty of options. The Browns 5-11 got them 7th in a draft where 1 QB went in the top 20.
1998-2000: 9-7, then 6-10, and 3-13
What did they do in their fourth year of the pattern: 7-9
The Cardinals made the playoffs 1998 and were able to defeat Dallas in the Wild Card game. They lost to the Vikings in the next round, then followed the Browns’ pattern of two consecutive losing seasons afterwards. Except it doesn’t end there in the fourth year. They finished 7-9, and sadly, that’s the best they would do until a magician named Kurtis Eugene Warner would show up with Ex-Steeler ball coach Ken Whisenhunt. In all that makes six losing seasons in a row before they go the route of the Browns and bring in a veteran QB to cover up their mistake of taking a small armed QB in the first round.
There are actually quite a few similarities between Kurt Warner and Jake Delhomme (undrafted free agent, played on the same European League team, Super Bowls in their first season as starters) but the Cardinals had six seasons more to build up around Warner than the Browns did.
If the Browns were them: Let’s hope they are not. The Cardinals had a pretty decent draft in 2001, like the Browns did this year, and it didn’t make a difference for seven more years. The Browns would improve, but play in a tougher division, and would eventually find out Colt McCoy wasn’t the answer either. Seven years down the road, Bill Cowher would come out of retirement to coach the Browns, who would also sign Tom Brady as a left for dead free agent. Super Bowl.
1996-1998: 9-7, then 3-13, and 3-13
What did they do in their fourth year of the pattern: 13-3
I could have skipped looking back at the Colts history of season to season records for the same reasons I could have skipped the Lions: everybody and their mother knows the Colts have been solid for a while now. However in 1997 they did manage to finish 9-7, and followed that up with two straight 3-13 campaigns, so that fits.
Problem is, after that first losing season in 1997 they drafted this guy named Peyton Manning. They struggled in his rookie year but they’ve dominated football ever since. Not really fair to compare these Browns to the Colts coming off of Peyton’s rookie season. The Colts have had 1 losing season the last 15 years, and drafted one of the greatest QB’s of all time. That doesn’t happen every day so we shouldn’t count on it.
If the Browns were them: They would have finished worse than the 2009 Rams and drafted Sam Bradford, then watched him blossom into one of the top 5 greatest quarterbacks ever. Sound realistic? The Rams were 1-15 and would have had the strength of schedule tie breaker in their favor, so that means the Browns would have had to go 0-16 for this to play. How much pain can you take? And that’s assuming Bradford is the next Manning, which he’s not.
2006-2008: 9-7, then 4-12, and 4-12
What did they do in their fourth year of the pattern: 4-12
The Chiefs window of opportunity was short. In 2006 they finished 9-7 and made the playoffs, but lost to Colts at home in a game where kick returner extraordinaire Dante Hall brought one back for a TD. The Chiefs went into decline along with Hall after that and finished 4-12 the next season, and 4-12 again in 2008.
By this time Trent Green, Priest Homes, Larry Johnson, and Tony Gonzalez had all moved on. A few skill players here and there but no defense, and no quarterback. Sound Familiar? The Chiefs attempted to add a franchise QB for 2009 through a weird trade with New England, but instead seem fixed on trying to set the record for most consecutive 4-12 seasons.
If the Browns were them: They would have traded for the Eagles Kevin Kolb (Matt Cassel or stud backup with no resume) and they would have stunk anyway with no surrounding talent. A year later they’d be handing the ball to Kolb again because they’d be desperate to prove Tom Heckert didn’t get fleeced by his former employer (see Scott Pioli gets schooled by Bill Belichick).
1997-1999: 11-5, then 7-9, and 6-10
What did they do in their fourth year of the pattern: 9-7
Funny their down-slide occurred in a window of time when they couldn’t punish the Browns. The Kordell Stewart experiment is pretty much what led to their malaise in the early part of the decade, although he wasn’t all bad. He got the Steelers to 13-3 in 2001, but they could never get over hump.
They turned their team over to a veteran free agent in Tommie Maddox (Jake Delhomme) after their QB Flash project was let go. Maddox got them to playoffs once, defeated the Browns even, but he was done a year later. That’s when the Steelers turned the page and drafted a QB from Ohio 11th overall in the 2004 draft. They’ve never finished under .500 since, and have won two Super Bowls.
If the Browns were them: They actually would have hung on to Brady Quinn and blamed his initial failure on a lack of supporting talent. Then they would have canned him after five years of never being able to get past the Steelers in the playoffs. The Steelers meanwhile had ditched Kordell Stewart ten years prior for a newer version of John Elway. See what I did there? My brain hurts.
2002-2004: 10-6 in 2002, then 7-9, and 2-14
What did they do in their fourth year of the pattern: 4-12
This division is god awful right? And the Rams aren’t even in here. San Francisco’s 2002 playoff berth could be seen as a fluke in the schedule like many think the 2007 Browns were. Finishing 7-9 in 2003 is a bit outside the pattern too, and their dramatic tumble to 2-14 in 2004 shows this team was free falling, not gradually putting themselves together like the Browns.
The 49ers drafted a Brady Quinn type QB #1 overall in the draft, and are still trying to come to terms with the fact it was a mistake. At least the Browns have moved on.
If the Browns were them: They would have realized Romeo Crennel was a bag of air after they finished 10-6 and canned him a year early. They would then hire and fire Eric Mangini after two seasons, and hire another coach out of college who wouldn’t do much better either. They’d miss on a QB in the draft setting them back for years. They would have taken a tight end absurdly high in the draft (oh wait they really did that). What a mess.
And last but not least… the Oakland Raiders
2002-2004: 11-5, then 4-12, and 5-11
What did they do in their fourth year of the pattern: 2-14
Yep, knew this one was coming. The crazy Oakland Raiders make it to the 2002 Super Bowl with a crazy good QB in Rich Gannon, and a just plain crazy offense lineman in Barret Robbins. They fall apart to 4-12 the following year, then finish 5-11 in 2004 exactly like the Browns pattern. The ugly part is they dropped to 2-14 in the fourth of year we are looking at, and have endured seven overall consecutive losing seasons since they made it to the Super Bowl.
What else could they possibly have in common with the Browns? A huge bust on a first round quarterback taken in the 2007 draft, a crazy owner driving the team into the ground, Kamerion Wimbley, and Charlie Frye.
At least they appear to be getting their act together again, just like the Browns. They had a smart if unspectacular draft, they retained a wise-guy coach everyone thought was getting fired, and they brought in a veteran QB to keep the laughing to a minimum. Same exact pattern as the Browns.
If the Browns were them: Isn’t it clear? We pretty much are them.
Like life, you make what you can out of everything. The Browns have laid the ground work to improve, but there are enough question marks to point to another long season. Overall I would say the evidence suggests they could finish either like the 2000-2002 Vikings (decent), or the 2002-2004 Raiders (bad). Let’s see how it plays.
Green Bay Packers: 2 losing seasons the last 15 years, that’s Brett Favre for ya.
Detroit Lions: Seriously didn’t even have to look, I knew there was no winning season or pattern here. Like I said everyone and their mom knows the Lions stink. Also, one of Green Bay’s losing seasons came when the Lions went 0-16.
New England Patriots: Just realized 16-0 happens same year as 0-16 Lions. I’ll touch on this and my NFL Yin and Yang theory later on…
Seattle Seahawks: 2007-2009: 10-6, then 4-12, and 5-11; What did they do in their fourth year of the pattern: Who knows!
The Seahawks have exact same record as the Browns the last three years in a row. In their last winning season of 2007, they actually lost to the Browns too. It will be interesting to see how they finish this year for many reasons. Mike Holmgren used to be with them, now he’s with us. Still they seem to be a year behind the Browns development curve because: they held on to their QB with diminishing skills while the Browns simply cut theirs loose, and their new coach is just in his first year of rebuilding the team.
Topics: Arizona Cardinals, Brady Quinn, Cleveland Browns, Colt McCoy, Eric Mangini, Giants, Kamerion Wimbley, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Romeo Crennel, Sam Bradford, San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans